How to Better Manage Your Time
Looking for the right time management tools and techniques to perform more efficiently? If you’re like most people, your time management skills could use a lot of work…
Time is a fixed resource and you can’t change that. There are only 52 weeks in a year, 7 days in a week, 24 hours in a day, and 60 minutes in an hour.
For every single one of us.
But most people have an almost unlimited list of things they would like to do.
Since it’s impossible you’ll ever get to it all, you MUST learn to use your hours wisely.
Make No Mistake – Time is Everything!
I can’t stress enough how much mastering this one single thing (productivity) can do to transform your results and satisfaction in every area of your life.
At FocusMe, we’ve seen it time and time again.
People who use our productivity app to knock out distractions so they can manage their time better and transform their lives.
Because poor time management skills can make you downright miserable. Lurching from one crisis to another in a constant state of stress…No more.
This article will share an assortment of time management tools and methods for changing the way you manage your productivity forever.
To reclaim much of your precious time on this Earth.
1. FocusMe Web Blocking and Productivity Software
We’ll start with tooting our own horn a little.
Not just out of self-interest but because we’ve seen how much FocusMe can change lives by giving people their time back.
And believe 150% in our own software.
There are many tools in the FocusMe app to help guide your quest for an organised life.
- Use it to block all those distracting websites that get between you and a productive lifestyle.
- Create time blocks for work and time blocks for play.
- Draw on automatically-generated visual graphs for an accurate look at where your computer time goes.
- Many users even use it to overcome procrastination or break free from time-sucking digital addictions.
Here’s a quick video if you want to know a bit more about how FocusMe works:
2. Don’t Underestimate The Trusty Ole’ To-Do List
One of your first steps to improve productivity and make good use of your time…
Properly organize your daily tasks.
“To-Do” lists may not be innovative, but they are an essential step in self-organization.
This takes a little trial and error — figure out which type of to-do list suits you best.
It could be a simple list on a piece of paper, ticking off line-by-line as you complete tasks. Or a fancy app on your phone or computer.
If you have high-level jobs or big project, begin with an overview of each major activity. Then split them down into the specific tasks, working out order of priority and setting deadlines.
Another useful trick is jotting down a short list of things you intend to do every time you sit down at a computer for work.
3. Want Something More Robust?
Check Out Some of the More Famous Time Management Systems:
Dave Allen’s cult classic (if such a thing exists among time management books, this is it). Here, you get everything out of your head and organised on paper (or electronically). You then thoroughly review what you’ve written to better organise your To-Do list and set up a simple system for managing it all moving forward.
The GTD method is a ton of work at first, but when you’re done your mind will be clearer than it has been in ages.
And it’s very intuitive to maintain once set up.
This book from Neil Fiore includes the unique “Unschedule,” a method of building up your To-Do list in a reverse order by planning your fun before anything else.
First fill your calendar with scheduled chores, committed activities, and realistic leisure time. Whatever is left over is designated for your work tasks, following a number of scheduling and lifestyle rules.
The Unschedule is a beautiful solution for chronic procrastinators who always blow off their off time because they have work to do (and then don’t do the work anyways). It gives you permission to unwind, free of guilt, so you can come back to work with renewed energy and drive.
Mark Forster’s ultimate time management system.
You go through your list of tasks, line by line, starting with whatever is at the top. As you work your way down, ask yourself whether the item you’re looking at needs to be done before anything you’ve yet come across.
If it does, you put a dot by it, and then compare the remaining items to that dotted item.
When you get to the bottom of your list, begin by doing the item with the dot currently in front of it, then work your way up the list though the items you have previously dotted.
Once they are all done, you repeat the process on your remaining tasks.
4. Prioritize Tasks So You’re Always Doing the Most Important Work
A key component of any To-Do List is working out task importance.
There’s no point putting together a list only to work on the easy tasks and shirk the hard ones. So determine which tasks are most important and focus on achieving these first.
One common method is to prioritize your tasks into categories, like this:
- A: Vital – must be done today
- B: Important – should be done today (or at least soon); and
- C: Need to get done at some point in the not-too-distant future
- You might even have a D category. Good for those tasks you’d like to get done at some time in the future but not urgent enough for a deadline.
Most people perform best near the start of their day, with a fresh mind. So begin your working day with Priority A tasks – even if they’re difficult or boring.
It’s far more rewarding and less stressful if you manage to get those difficult – but important! – tasks out of the way first.
5. Avoid Time Management Destroyers Like Email and Facebook at Productive Times
Too many people start their day by opening their email account. Plodding slowly through the inbox until either the list is empty or they have something more urgent to attend to.
Reading emails isn’t a top-level task for most of us. Consider restricting your email checks to a few set times of the day – perhaps in the afternoon after more important work has wound down a bit.
Social media can also be a major time waster.
It’s so easy to find those five minutes you took to glance at Facebook have turned into 30 minutes. Turn off pesky notifications that alert you when an “important” email or message has come through. Things are hardly ever that pressing.
You’re likely to make much better use of your time if you turn off the notification settings on your devices completely.
FocusMe Scheduler can help with this too. Use the scheduler to block websites and applications at the times you know you are most likely to become distracted. Choose to start your day productively, rather than being distracted by the latest celebrity gossip or football results.
6. Use ToDoist to Plan Time in Advance
There are a number of useful apps that can help improve your productivity and time management.
This is one of the best.
ToDoist, as its name suggests, helps you create and manage your To-Do lists.
Begin by typing in any projects you have to do.
Then split up these projects into specific tasks.
Set a deadline for each task, which can be recurring, and give each task one of 4 priority levels. It’s super easy to move tasks around and create the perfect To-Do list to match your schedule and available time.
7. Trello is Another Great Time Management Tool for Managing Time With Projects
The Trello platform is such a fantastic resource for visualizing projects, particularly for teams.
Trello lets you set up boards, which usually represent projects, and easily allocate tasks to each member. And within each board, you can set up different lists.
Each list, in turn, contains a series of cards. Cards are effectively tasks.
For instance, you may have a board representing a particular project. You could then split the project into stages (lists) and then itemize the individual jobs to do on a series of cards.
This thread at The Fastlane Forum outlines one of my favorite ways to use Trello as a tool for personal time management.
8. Split Up Work Time With Rejuvenating Breaks
Taking time out from your work seems counter-intuitive to increasing your productivity.
But it’s absolutely vital. Your body needs a release from sustained work and concentration.
It’s often during these downtimes that you get the opportunity to “truly” think and come up with fresh ideas.
Help this natural process along by stepping away from your normal workspace, perhaps even taking a walk. A 5-10 minute meditation session can work some real magic.
In the well-known book on overcoming procrastination, “The Now Habit,” Neil Fiore put heavy emphasis on the importance of scheduling relaxation breaks and fun time. If you don’t, your mind is likely to tune out on its own and wander when you get burnt out.
FocusMe allows you to set break reminders or even set enforced breaks, should you become too absorbed in your work.
9. Use the Pomodoro Technique for Productive Bursts of Focus and Work
The Pomodoro Technique is a great way to mix in bursts of concentrated work with short breaks to maximize time and efficiency.
Its unusual name is based on a tomato-shaped kitchen timer originally used by developer Francis Cirillo as he perfected the technique.
Here’s How to Use the Pomodoro Technique:
- Select a task from your To-Do list.
- Set a timer.
- Become absorbed in the task for 25 minutes, blocking out all distractions.
- If anything comes along to interrupt you, simply take a note of it and deal with it later.
- Once the 25 minutes are up, take a short break – five or ten minutes should be fine. This break is important as it gives your brain a chance to rest.
- Once your break is over you can then move back into another 25-minute work session, either on the same task or the next on your To Do list, followed by a further break.
Why it Works So Well:
25 minutes is a good length for a concerted work session.
You’ll neither become too tired nor feel you have done too little work to accomplish anything. Try to fit in as many Pomodoro cycles as you can per day, working on your most important tasks first.
The desktop version of FocusMe includes a handy Pomodoro Timer to help you try this technique out without the need to hunt down a tomato-shaped kitchen timer.
Want to become a Pomodoro Expert?
10. Understand Why Rushing Can Be Counterproductive
Time Management Ninja, Craig Jarrow, tells the story of the lesson he learned from the captain of his first ship as a young naval officer.
The captain stressed to him how important it is to “do it right the first time, and do it with class.”
If a task is worth doing, in other words, do it right first time.
As Craig Jarrow observed, you can’t skimp and do a rushed job because ultimately you will pay for it by redoing shoddy work.
So, no matter how busy you are, there is never a reason to give less than your best.
11. Lower the “Barrier to Entry” and Ease Procrastination Pressure
Mark Forster is the author of the Get Everything Done website and multiple books about time management and personal organisation. He recommends this great little tip for computer work you keep procrastinating.
Tell yourself you’re only opening a file to look at it – not to work.
By creating a low-pressure way to get the ball rolling, you bypass your natural hesitance and more often than not end up working on the thing after all.
A Similar Principle Can Conquer Resistance to Other Challenges.
Want to go to the gym?
Tell yourself you only have to show up…and then you can go home if you don’t feel like working out. Actually commit to letting yourself off the hook if you want to be lazy – you’ll be amazed how fast daily workouts become an ingrained habit.
Want to start running?
Commit to only strapping on your shoes and walking outside ever morning.
Here’s another one for work – set a timer for a mere 5 minutes. Anybody can work on something for 5 minutes, so the pressure goes away and eventually 5 minutes turns into hours.
12. Keep a Bullet Journal to Organize Important Notes
Ryder Carroll, the man who invented the “bullet journal,” was diagnosed with a learning disability early in his life.
So he had to develop simple and clever methods to stay focused and productive.
The bullet journal only requires a notebook and pen. Taking handwritten notes may seem slower than typing on your phone or laptop, but studies show that taking notes by hand increases focus and retention significantly.
Bullet journaling is built around two concepts— Indexing and Rapid Logging.
As tasks, notes and events arise, log them into your daily journal entry and denote each with a different bullet. For example, one could place a dash before notes, an open circle before events, and a dot before a task.
After logging everything each day, you go back over your list. Strike out the accomplished items and migrate the rest to the succeeding day.
The Index, usually placed at the front page, helps you locate content in your notebook. Simply add the different topics you write about (e.g. project notes, a collection of tasks, journal entries) and their corresponding page number.
Dubbed the “KonMari for your racing thoughts” by Vogue, this system has grown wildly popular due to its flexibility and easy adaptation for just about any lifestyle.
It keeps everything important in one place and makes things easy to find.
For more information, check out bulletjournal.com.
13. Underestimate Yourself to Put Your Time Priorities in Realistic Perspective
“The trouble is, you think you have time.” – Jack Kornfield
One of the biggest hurdles to making full use of time is the word “later.”
See, we tend to overestimate the speed and ease by which we can do something. This is called the planning fallacy.
That’s why you constantly put things off until tomorrow. It’ll be easy to accomplish the task “then.”
But remember, time flies faster than you do….
When you estimate how long takes to complete a task, you naturally assume things will go as well as they possibly could. Perhaps a little trick of Nature to keep you motivated and moving forward…
But in real life, many unplanned events arise suddenly.
A car breaking down. A sudden call from a distraught friend. An upset stomach. A task that turns out to be more difficult than assumed and takes up half the allotted time.
There are a million and one unplanned things that can eat up your most optimistic time management schedule.
Life is short— make good use of it by getting things done today. And when scheduling your time, overestimate how much time you’ll need (while underestimating your ability to perform).
14. Identify Your Peak Performance Hours
Here’s a good time management hack: determine your most productive hours during the day and finish the highest priority tasks at those times.
To do this, simply track each hour of your day on a small notebook. You don’t need to do it forever – just until you get a good idea where the time is going.
Your goal is to determine your typical energy levels at each time interval.
Toggl is another tool worth checking out.
Type out what you’re working on and this time management tool will start tracking it for you using an extension that sits in your web browser.
Finally, just note down how you feel throughout the day. Pay attention to your emotions or common cycles.
Do you crash or get a little low-energy and pessimistic in the afternoon? Are you fired up to conquer the world late at night?
With a bit of analysis you can quickly figure out which hours of the day are best for you and optimize your time management accordingly.
15. Try TickTick for Integrated Time and Task Management
We’ve talked about to-do lists, taking notes, and tracking time. But what if there was one time management tool that could do all three?
Ticktick offers the usual slew of task management features, integrating your calendar and creating task checklists all in one place. The app then takes things a step further by introducing a few other useful functionalities.
First, it uses smart language.
Simply type “take out the trash at 7pm” and it will automatically schedule the task for you.
You can tag each task by priority and/or category and view them in basic list form (or even as Kanban boards). For those who enjoy seeing where their time went, TickTick also has a built-in Pomodoro timer.
TickTick can even play sounds like birdsong or a gently flowing river to help you focus (if you prefer the sounds of a mellow cafe, some gentle rain, or both – check out Rainy Cafe). The timer then sits in the background until you pause or change the task you’re working on.
The app can even chart which tasks you spend the most time on, and which hours of the day you usually get the most work done.
16. Delegate and Outsource to Bring in Outside Help
We all have our strengths and weaknesses.
Delegating allows you to farm out tough tasks to someone better equipped to handle it (or who just has more time at a lower cost).
Not sure where to start looking for qualified individuals?
Try websites like Fiverr.
No longer just a $5 service website, Fiverr now offers easy-to-order services all across the spectrum.
One great thing about Fiverr is the productized nature of the services, so you know exactly what you’re going to get.
Or post a project on Upwork.
With Upwork, just post the details of the job you want done and your budget. As freelancers begin bidding on the job, you can view their work history and select accordingly.
Yes, these platforms have a reputation for shoddy work, but there are plenty of valuable providers if you hire diligently and stick with the best performers.
Delegation and outsourcing may not feel like managing your time more efficiently at first…
But once you get through the learning curve and find a few contractors you like, it can become a secret weapon in getting things done. Most people won’t bother fighting through that learning curve.
So even today it’ll give you an edge others in your industry don’t have.
17. Break Time-Wasting Habits and Build Better Habits for Getting Things Done
Any time management improvement will surely require some serious habit change.
And building smarter habits is easier said than done. Try one of the many habit formation tools designed to help.
Streaks is an award-winning app that encourages you to maintain your habit streak through a beautifully designed and customizable interface.
It also integrates with iOS Health app for your fitness-related goals.
Begin with your own customizable game character.
For each good habit you complete, the app awards points and allows you to “level up” your character. You can even make it interactive by going on goal quests and missions with your friends.
With bad habits, time is your enemy.
When you build good habits, time becomes your friend.
18. Maximize Your Down-time to Double Down On Your Skills
Most of us have periods in the day filled with “dead air.”
Whether stuck in traffic, on a long commute, or sitting in lines and waiting rooms…
Many just use this time to ruminate or listen to music. Sure, jamming out has its moments, but what a waste. Why not make the empty gaps in your days more useful?
Explore different ways to turn idle periods into productive hours.
Catch up on a podcast while driving in traffic. Read articles while sitting in a train. Carry a Kindle everywhere you go, so no unexpected wait goes unrewarded.
You can even use an app like Duolingo to learn a new language instead of just daydreaming on the bus.
The goal is to work smarter, not harder.
Activating your idle time is a great way first step in doing that.
19. Leverage the Power of Automation
One of the most under-used, underrated personal or professional time management tools lie in the field of automation.
There are many automation tools to free up your time for more important things, and not enough people bother to learn how to use them.
Two of the most notable apps for automation are IFTTT and Zapier.
IFTTT, or “If this, then that,” is a web-based software that creates an applet to connect all of your favorite apps and devices and build custom processes around them.
You specify the trigger and the result, and IFTTT does the rest.
For example, every time you post a photo to Instagram, you can have it automatically saved to a specific folder in your Dropbox. Or save all of your liked Youtube videos to a spreadsheet. Or automatically mute your mobile phone as soon as you reach the office.
The possibilities are truly endless.
But while IFTTT only has one trigger and one action, Zapier allows you to build conditional triggers and automatically execute a chain of actions.
Both of these services are wonderful for automating your life and getting repetitive tasks out of the way.
Remember, anything that can be repeated can be automated!
20. Take an Occasional Digital Detox
Sometimes the answer isn’t more digital time management tools…
It’s stepping back from the computer.
Want to reign in your digital distractions and “reset” your self-discipline – so you can rebuild it from an entire new foundation?
Consider a partial, or even full, digital detox.
The world survived before we had these devices. There’s no reason why it can’t now.
One way to do this is, once again, is to use FocusMe.
With our Windows, Mac and Android distraction blocker you can select which websites and apps you want to block for a set period of time. For example, if you’re a Facebook addict, take your time back by setting FocusMe to temporarily block your Facebook access.
Or if you want to nuclear, shut off the web and any distracting apps completely.
You can block anything you want for a set number of minutes, days, months, or even years!
If communication technology isn’t vital to your job, you could at least consider doing without devices completely during work hours. You might be amazed by how much additional time you claim just by unchaining yourself from the phone or computer.
Which Time Management Tools Make the Most Sense For You?
Every life is different, and we all have our own priorities.
But whatever you do, just make certain that you use your time consciously…
Instead of letting it constantly trickle away from you.
After all, time is finite.
And every minute wasted is one you can never regain.